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A First Five Village Sports Day

What a great day it was watching the eager participants in the first ever five village sports day organized by the Royal Projects for the tribal villagers in Wiang Haeng, at the western boundary of Chiangmai Province. The temperature was cool with the over of the haze of clouds, we could stand out on the field to closely cheer on the athletes. The tribal villagers were dressed in their finest costumes complete with tassles, headdresses and dazzling silver decorations.

The games competitions were set up in the public area of the Kachin Village. This group has migrated from Tibet as evidenced by their costumes, hats and fabrics. In the center of the field is a very large form bringing to my mind a replica of the totem pole built by Eskimos in North America.

The cheerleading sections of each village certainly put out high level energy and ear drum piercing noise of youthful cheerleaders typical in any western country. The surprising thing is that these cheerleaders were by no means teenagers as seen in the accompanying photos.

Each village gave a present to HSH Prince Bhisatej Rajani, the Director of the Royal Projects in Chiangmai Province to honor and thank him for all the assistance they have received throughout the years from the Royal Project Foundation. Prince Bhitsadej gave a very short welcome and beat the gong three times signalling the beginning of the sports day.

Two unusual tribes, the Kachin and the Palong, put on dance performances describing the history and beliefs of each tribe. The dance patterns were "follow the leader" with lots of twists and turns. The dancers all had a look of pride and happiness while they demonstrated their folk dance custom.

Lunch was served inside a long hall. The table was decorated with several packages of wrapped green bamboo leaves. It was a surprise to open the packages and look at the food inside each package. There were roasted slices of free range chicken, a powdered mince of dried fish, a lightly spiced salad of green vines and steamed rice. The leaves gave a lovely fragrance to the food. A great puzzle was how to remove the herb covered fish that had been steamed inside a bamboo stalk. After turning the bamboo stalk up and down, we had to give up and request help of the kind 'mae baan' to show us the trick to open it.

The sports games organized were mostly relay type events with teams representing each village. There was no shortage of eager volunteers for the relay teams. The first event called for runners on bamboo poles. Mostly young men competed at first but they were having so much fun the women and young girls decided it was definitely worth dashing around the track. It turned out to be pure confusion but plenty of laughter under the cloudy sky. Runners carrying backpack baskets loaded with coconuts followed.

The prizes were awarded to first, second and third place winners. First prize winners were given a trophy, and an evening accommodation plus meal in the beautiful nearby Doi Angkhang Hotel. Second and third place winners were given more practical items such as baskets, personal care items and shirts.

The men turned back the clock to their childhood when they started practicing their spinning tops. The wooden tops were flying at bone breaking speed all over the field. The players were assigned to a more closed in area. It must be the most popular sport of the villagers judging from the large crowd watching the spinners.

Other sport contests were rolling a motorbike inner tube with a stick and around mid-afternoon, we had to bid farewell to all that joy and laughter. It was wonderful to see many people of all ages gathered together to share in the good hearted competition of the sports day event..

We visited a second Royal Project in the area known as Huay Leuk Hmong located at a height of 600 msl. It's a place for researching various agriculture products and for growing small plants to be replanted for harvesting on nearby farms owned by tribals and lowlanders. The purple eggplants were so beautiful and shiny. They were too beautiful to eat. At this season, about 300 kilograms of just egg plants each day go to markets in Chiangmai and Bangkok. Other cash crops sent to market at this time are cherry tomatoes and Japanese cucumbers. Fresh flowers such as asters and orchids are grown for sale also.

At this time 33 Royal Projects are open for tourism. Each has accommodation for overnight lodging. Call the Royal Project Center for information about this program.

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